Helpful Advice For Printing Direct to Garment

Direct to Garment (DTG) printers use a similar technology to many other inkjet printers. They have a print head on a rail system that slides back and forth as it lays down layers of ink while the substrate is fed through underneath it. The difference is that your inkjet printer fits on your desk and prints on paper. Ours is about 10x bigger, prints on apparel and can print white ink.

DTG printing has come a long way in the last decade and we've learned a lot from printing this way across various types of garments. We often get customers that refuse to print DTG because of a bad experience they've had in the past. We like to challenge them and ask them to give us the opportunity to change their minds by printing a sample for them. We are confident in our ability to print DTG better than most. The information below will help you understand how to get the best possible DTG print.

Blank Garment Selection

DTG print on a terry towel

Texture – When printing on any type of fabric, the texture of the fabric itself will affect the appearance of the print. The smoother the substrate, the better the print will look and feel. This is especially true of DTG prints. The specially formulated DTG ink only adheres to cotton or similar organic fibers. The cotton acts as a sponge that soaks up the ink.

Therefore, the more porous the material, the more ink is absorbed and the vibrancy is reduced. Ringspun cotton provides a smoother, less porous surface with a tighter knit and a much better print than carded cotton does. You can learn more about the differences in carded vs ringspun cotton here.

This doesn't mean that we can't print on textured fabric at all. Printing on looped cotton terry can be done well especially if the towels are white or a light color that does not require a white base to be printed. The texture of the towel will disrupt any small details but larger swatches of color will print well.

Similarly, textured fabrics like canvas or denim may distort fine details in an image but the density of the cotton fibers rarely results in a loss of vibrancy. We have been able to achieve very good results on canvas totes and denim jackets.

Side by side comparison of the same DTG print on different t-shirts

Brands – There are far too many brands to list all of the cotton t-shirts that are DTG printable. We have however, come across a short list that we've found that produce excellent prints most consistently.

As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to steer clear of rougher carded cotton t-shirts and opt for ringspun cotton. Softer is not necessarily better though. Some softer ringspun cotton tees add softeners like excessive amounts silicone that can prevent the DTG print from adhering to the surface. Also items that are "peached" to be softer may result in a less than optimal print due to the short threads that cover the surface like peach fuzz. Gildan Hammer tees are notorious for this among DTG printers. You can see in the image below how the light blue portion at the top half of the Renegades graphic looks noisier than the other two shirt options due to the texture of the shirt.

The brands that we've found to print the best are (in no particular order); AS Colour, Cotton Heritage, Lane 7, Smart Blanks, JHK, Los Angeles Apparel, Comfort Colors, Rue Porter and Shaka Wear.

an example of dye migration on a dtg print

Uneven Print Surfaces

DTG print over the front pocket of a hooded sweatshirt

Pockets and Zippers – In order for your print to be as clear and sharp as it should be, the apparel we're printing on needs to lay as close to the print head as possible. The further away the garment is from the print head, the less accurate the print can be. This is why we strongly discourage printing over any seams, pockets, zippers, etc. as it requires to move the garment further away from the print head to avoid obstructions as it glides back and forth. As you can see here, the print on the pocket of the hoodie is much sharper since it was closest to the print head and the other portions are blurrier. It is important to keep this in mind when asking us to print over any uneven surfaces.

Some items may lay flatter overall and the difference may not be as drastic as it appears in this image but it is important to understand that printing over uneven surfaces produces an uneven looking print. Usually, DTG printing will be limited to the area of the garment that lays completely flat.


A split image showing the same graphic printed with and without pretreatment.

White or Light Colored Garments – When printing Direct to Garment (DTG) on white or light-colored apparel, it is not necessary to print any white ink and only color ink is printed. This results in the softest possible feeling print but since the ink is mostly being absorbed into the fabric, the vibrancy can suffer.

This works well when recreating a "vintage" design but may not achieve the vibrancy that some people may be looking for. Using a similar pretreatment spray that we use when printing on dark garments, we can create an increased vibrancy on white apparel as well.

This spray helps decrease the absorption of the ink into the fabric and helps retain as much color as possible on the surface initially. This helps create a much brighter print. Proper care of the garment will help keep it looking bright for a while but it will always end up looking more faded as the fibers of the material relax and unravel slightly.

There are some instances where it may be necessary to pretreat a white garment to prevent some colors from bleeding into each other. Red and black seem to be notorious for bleeding together like this. Pretreating the garment help create a much sharper print by keeping those types of colors from bleeding due to the absorbency of the cotton.

Garment Dyed Apparel – Sometimes, the dyes and detergents used when manufacturing blank apparel can vary between batches. There are times where although you are using all the same brand, style and color of blank apparel, they may have been manufactured across different plants in totally different parts of the world. So while your order may contain all the same brand and style, the larges in your order may have been manufactured in Honduras and the mediums may have been manufactured in Bangladesh. While the difference may be unrecognizable when looking at the garment itself, the pretreatment solution sprayed on your garment may have a different chemical reaction to the dyes or detergents used to manufacture them. Unfortunately there is no way for us to know this ahead of time and a certain tolerance will need to be allowed when printing a large quantity of DTG garments. This seems to be more prevalent in garment dyed apparel like the example below.

Split image showing the same DTG printed graphic across garment dyed apparel.